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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 21(8)

Resilience of a eucalypt forest woody understorey to long-term (34–55 years) repeated burning in subtropical Australia

Tom Lewis A B C D and Valerie J. Debuse A B C

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Agri-Science Queensland, University of the Sunshine Coast, Locked Bag 4, Maroochydore District Centre, Qld 4558, Australia.
B The Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, PMB 50, Gold Coast Mail Centre, Qld 9726, Australia.
C University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs Drive, Sippy Downs, Qld 4556, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: tom.lewis@daff.qld.gov.au

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(8) 980-991 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF11003
Submitted: 10 January 2011  Accepted: 20 March 2012   Published: 30 July 2012


 
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Abstract

We investigated the effects of annual burning since 1952, triennial burning since 1973, fire exclusion since 1946 and infrequent wildfire (one fire in 61 years) on woody understorey vegetation in a dry sclerophyll eucalypt forest, south-eastern Queensland, Australia. We determined the influence of these treatments, and other site variables (rainfall, understorey density, topsoil C : N ratio, tree basal area, distance to watercourse and burn coverage) on plant taxa density, richness and composition. The richness of woody understorey taxa 0–1 m in height was not affected by burning treatments, but richness of woody plants 1–7.5 m in height was lower in the annually burnt treatment than in the triennially burnt treatment from 1989 to 2007. Fire frequency and other site variables explained 34% of the variation in taxa composition (three taxon groups and 10 species), of which 33% of the explained variance was explained by fire treatment and 46% was explained by other site variables. Annual burning between 1974 and 1993 was associated with lower understorey densities mainly due to reduced densities of eucalypts 1–7.5 m in height. Triennial burning during the same period was associated with higher densities of eucalypts 0–7.5 m in height relative to the annually burnt and unburnt treatments. Most woody taxa persisted in the frequently burnt treatments through resprouting mechanisms (e.g. lignotuberous regeneration), and fire patchiness associated with low-intensity burning was also found to be important. Persistence of plants <1 m tall demonstrates the resilience of woody taxa to repeated burning in this ecosystem, although they mainly exist in a suppressed growth state under annual burning.

Additional keywords: fire regimes, plant composition, plant density, regeneration, richness, vegetation structure.


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